As nutty as it may sound, the logline “an MMA champion teams up with an exorcist to fight Satan’s forces” suggests at least a kind of excitement. But excitement is hard to find in Joo-hwan Kim’s The Divine Fury, a leaden good-vs-evil tale that takes issues of faith very, very seriously but fails to make K.O.-ing the Devil look the least bit fun. Asian horror buffs may turn out in small numbers for the Korean import’s Stateside theatrical release, and may appreciate parts of the movie’s vision, but few will argue that it offers either the scares of a classic exorcism drama or the rollicking action of a Hellboy.
Yong-hoo (Seo-joon Park) was still a boy mourning his mother’s death when his father, a traffic cop, was killed in the line of duty. Already on the fence about religion — if God answers prayers, why didn’t he heal Mom? — the boy now picks a side: He throws a crucifix at the priest trying to comfort him, hard, and storms off into a faith-free future.
Twenty years later, he’s a famous MMA star living a life of sterile luxury. He’s entering the ring for a bout in America when he sees his opponent’s back: A full-torso tattoo of Jesus on the cross triggers something in him, and a voice in his head repeats, “Get revenge, revenge…God killed Dad, get revenge!” The poor guy in the other corner hardly knows what hit him.
On the long flight back, though, Yong-hoo suffers something more than a bad dream: He awakens with puncture wounds on his palms, and they only get worse over the next few days as the violent nightmares continue. After visits to a doctor and a blind shaman don’t help — “You’re screwed; you’re covered in demons” the shaman says — he seeks advice from men of the cloth.
We meet Father Ahn (Sung-ki Ahn) in one of the film’s many exorcism scenes. An older, very serious man, he’s tight with the Vatican and has mysterious scars from earlier adventures. Ahn’s a potentially appealing character, but he’s given the same tired faith-based dialogue (“There’s a reason behind every torment we suffer”) as everyone else here, and only one scene, in which he shares a couple of beers with the young fighter, attempts to flesh out his personality. Ahn recognizes Yong-hoo’s stigmata for what they are, but won’t initially explain how a man so far from God is experiencing a phenomenon that typically afflicts the very, very faithful.
Across town, a rich nightclub owner (Woo Do-hwan) has clearly made a deal with the Devil. Known as the Dark Bishop, he has an altar in the club’s basement and seeks to please an unseen demonic horde. The movie offers several episodes of remote-control evilmaking, as the Dark Bishop, say, stabs into a disembodied heart like a voodoo doll to cause his mortal enemies pain. He’s the man behind the string of possessions Ahn is being forced to investigate — encounters that are physically dangerous enough that Yong-hoo eventually feels compelled to tag along, lending muscle to the priest’s holy water and prayers.
Director Kim and his star Park had something of a local hit in 2017 with the action comedy Midnight Runners, but any charisma the actor might’ve shown there is hard to see here. Good-looking but generally expressionless, Park finds neither brooding anger nor engaging bewilderment in Yong-hoo as the character grapples with what’s happening to him. Hit-and-miss CGI drives most of the action scenes, and while Ahn’s performance suggests the stakes involved, the film itself has trouble getting viewers to care. Often sluggish and much longer than it needs to be, the picture slogs toward the inevitable moment when, after some hokey visions of his father in the afterlife, Yong-hoo accepts the Lord’s mysterious ways and decides to kick some ass on His behalf.
Production companies: Keyeast, 706 Productions
Distributor: Well Go USA
Cast: Seo-joon Park, Sung-Ki Ahn, Do-Hwan Woo, Woo-sik Choi
Director-screenwriter: Joo-hwan Kim
Production designer: Yoo Jung Han
Composer: Ja wan Koo